Tennessee Stat Book
Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess, Knoxville News Sentinel // Buy this photo
The Mid-American Conference had a big Saturday. Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Northern Illinois, Ball State, they all upset BCS conference schools.
And then Akron, a 32-point underdog, had a big half at Tennessee’s expense Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.
First Avis Commack intercepted a Tyler Bray pass and raced 44 yards for a touchdown in the first minute.
Then Quentin Hines broke loose for a 70-yard touchdown run late in the second period to put the Zips up 23-20.
A stunned crowd, announced at 81,719, didn’t know what to think of a 23-23 halftime draw. But it knew it didn’t like it.
“The score at halftime is a score that never matters,’’ said Tennessee safety Byron Moore.
The final score, the one that always matters, was 47-26, as UT (3-1) shook off the post-Florida hangover.
The fourth quarter was Tennessee’s undoing last week against Florida. It was the Vols’ finest moment against Akron.
After the Zips (1-3) pulled within 30-26 on Robert Stein’s fourth field goal to start the fourth quarter, Tennessee scored the game’s final 17 points.
“That was a tough game,’’ UT coach Derek Dooley said. “I knew it would be.
“I’m proud of the team. We had so many things go wrong (early) and we came out and dominated the second half.
“That’s a good step for the team.’’
Eric Gordon’s interception at the Akron 19 with 9:09 to play set up Tyler Bray for a knockout punch.
Bray connected, hitting Justin Hunter with the 19-yard touchdown strike on Tennessee’s first snap.
That made it 40-26. A little over two minutes later, Bray connected with Jacob Carter for a 24-yard TD pass.
With 6:34 to play, a 47-26 lead was comfortable enough.
The game produced 977 yards of offense, 633 by UT and 344 by Akron.
There were eight field goals. Akron’s Stein was a perfect 4-of-4. Tennessee’s Derrick Brodus matched him, hitting all four tries, from 37, 23, 22 and 28 yards.
“They were big,’’said Dooley. “We were struggling in the red zone.’’
Akron’s hurry-up offense had the Vols on their heels for three quarters, but, ultimately, the Zips managed only one field goal in the second half.
“We knew they were gonna wear down and get tired,’’ said Bray. “That’s what happened.’’
Ten of Akron’s points came from Tennessee turnovers, including Commack’s interception return in the opening minute.
A Rajion Neal fumble set up Stein’s first field goal and a 10-10 tie.
Bray warmed up as the game went on and finished with four touchdown passes to four different receivers — Hunter, Carter, Neal and Brendan Downs.
His passing night ended 27 of 43 for 401 yards.
The Vols rushed for 232 yards, including 151 by Neal.
Linebacker A.J. Johnson scored a touchdown for the second consecutive game, finishing a drive with a 2-yard run.
A first half that featured 570 yards of offense, six field goals and three turnovers — two by UT — ended in a draw.
Things went bad for Tennessee almost from the start when Bray was picked off on the third play.
“They (Akron) were jumping around everywhere and he made a bad decision,’’ Dooley said.
Thirty-five seconds gone and Akron led 7-0.
The Vols got seven the hard way, a 13-play drive that ended in Johnson’s direct-snap run.
Moore’s first interception and return to the Akron 28 quickly gave Tennessee an opportunity to get some separation.
Three points was all the separation that came of it, though, as Brodus hit from 37 yards.
The turnover festival continued when Neal fumbled at the UT 29. Stein’s 45-yard field goal tied things at 10-10.
As the second quarter began, the Vols squandered another long drive when they couldn’t move the ball after a first down at the Akron 7.
Brodus’ 23-yard field goal made it 13-10.
The Zips finally earned points with some offensive prowess, driving 12 plays for another Stein field goal to make it 13-13.
Tennessee answered, this time managing to find the end zone. A 48-yard bomb from Bray to Zach Rogers reached the 5. Bray found tight end Downs wide open from the 6 for the go-ahead score, 20-13.
Akron continued to move the ball well and got a 37-yard field goal from Stein to narrow the gap to 20-16.
Next, Tennessee’s short-yardage frustration continued — with dire consequences.
On fourth-and-1 at the Akron 29, Johnson was stopped cold. The Zips took over with 2:36 left in the half, 70 yards away.
Hines got the 70 all in one run, breaking through a hole and then outrunning Tennessee’s secondary.
Boos could be heard as Hines crossed the goal line to put Akron on top 23-20.
The Vols quickly moved for a first-and-goal at the Akron 9, but Bray couldn’t find a receiver on second or third down.
Brodus cleaned up one more time, from 22 yards, and the half ended 23-23.
But that score, as Moore correctly pointed out, never matters.